On the run and jail time: the colourful past of scam gang’s money launderer
- Credit: Archant
A bankrupt antiques dealer behind a £3m fraud is beginning a six-year prison sentence today. But the Suffolk scammer will be in familiar surroundings.
Barry Spearing had just been freed from prison when he got an invite which would lead him straight back to a life of crime.
The invitation was for a family wedding and there he met a Romford businessman, Muhammed Tanveer.
The 58-year old would end up helping Tanveer launder the rich pickings from a 'boiler room' scam, which took £3m from more than 50 victims by convincing them to invest in fake companies.
Spearing would later claim he thought the money he was helping to move was legitimate.
But a look at the antique dealer's past shows a familiarity with fraud.
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In 2006 he went on the run to Bulgaria for three years after swindling creditors of his antiques business out of £1.9m.
In January of that year he was found guilty of fraud while running the once-thriving Wrentham Antiques near Southwold.
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He was ordered to pay £1.9m or face seven years' imprisonment, but by that point he had already fled to Bulgaria, later claiming he had done so for his own safety.
His scams at that time included filling in blank cheques and paying them into his account.
He also tried to hide antiques worth up to £750,000 in a Lowestoft warehouse.
Spearing was caught in the Black Sea resort of Varna and jailed for 10 years in 2009.
In 2016, out of prison, he was back before the courts, this time accused of stealing £120,000 worth of antiques.
His partner, Lynne Graver from Stutton, Suffolk, was charged alongside him for allegedly handling stolen goods.
The couple, who got engaged on the eve of their court date, were both cleared.
Prosecutors dropped the case because they could not provide an audit trail for the items allegedly taken.
Spearing said at the time: 'I honestly think it was totally unfair what happened to the pair of us. Justice prevailed today.'
But while uttering those words to the Eastern Daily Press in July 2016 he was already in the midst of his latest fraud and the law was catching up with him.
• 'A traditional fraud'
The region's serious organised crime unit, ERSOU, had known about the boiler room fraud since 2015.
It had begun in 2014, but the challenge was proving how a web of companies, UK and international bank accounts and different people who did not all know each other were linked.
'It was a traditional boiler room scam,' said DCI Liz Fernandes, the senior investigating officer on the case.
'But it has been a very long and complex investigation because there has been the need for a lot of international inquiries.'
Would-be investors were cold-called and pressured into selling their assets through the scammers' companies or buying investments from them.
Some of the victims were on a list shared by fraudsters of vulnerable people.
One victim, aged 83, lost £1m.
• The gang
While Tanveer, the man Spearing met at the family wedding, focused on the fraud, Spearing, along with another man called Shaun Cross, led the laundering.
They recruited people they knew and used their bank accounts to put the money through.
Those recruits included Philip Hunt, from Trowse, who had known Spearing most of his life.
Hunt's dad, also called Philip, knew Spearing and both worked in antiques.
Cross, from Orpington, meanwhile recruited friends and family, including his mum Mandy, cousin Lucy Richards, and friend Ryan Weston from Wisbech.
The last person charged, Mark Bowman, from Whitley Bay, was a friend of Weston's who he had met in Thailand.
Victims were asked to transfer money to the bank accounts of some of the money laundering mules.
A total of £290,000 went through Hunt's account, £1.9m through Weston's and £290,000 through Spearing's.
Those who allowed their bank accounts to be used were paid small commissions, but the vast majority of the money was moved abroad to Hong Kong and Cyprus.
Police do not expect to get any of it back.
Tanveer was jailed for seven years, while Weston received a three-and-a-half year sentence.
Cross was jailed for four years and eight months and Hunt was sentenced to 20 months suspended for two years.
Bowman was given a 15-month suspended sentence, Mandy Cross received a 12-month suspended sentence and Richardson a two-year suspended sentence.
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